- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 14, 2009


The world lost a caring pastor of souls and a dedicated man of ideas last week. On Thursday, Jan. 8, Richard John Neuhaus returned to God after a long fight with cancer. A natural fighter, he earlier had remarked that he was surprised how unready he was for death. As a priest, Father Neuhaus believed that life was a journey and hoped that he still had more to see on his own road of discovery. His trip offers many lessons for all of us.

Neuhaus the man, as well as Reverend Neuhaus the man of God, lived his 72 years to the full. And if the proverb is true that every season brings a change, this departed intellectual was truly a man for all seasons because of the many foundational changes that occurred in his outlook over the years. A naturally-born Canadian, his belief in the American democratic experiment led him to become a U.S. citizen. Most fundamental to his own life, worldview and vocation was his conversion to Roman Catholicism after 30 years as a Lutheran minister. A former political liberal who opposed the Vietnam War on pacifistic grounds in the 1960s, he became a dyed-in-the-wool neoconservative leader in subsequent decades who strongly supported the current war in Iraq. This position was in open disagreement with many of his superiors in the Vatican hierarchy.

It is important that we remember and honor those who have passed for what they actually were. Father Neuhaus was chiefly a prominent socially conservative voice in the secular political sphere. On many of the social ills that sicken the body politic, he was a bold voice in defense of traditional morality. He attributed his political move to the right as a reaction to being mugged by the reality of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision which forced legal abortion on the states. His highly sagacious magazine set out thorough explanations for why ostensible modern “human rights” such as abortion actually make us all less human.

Inside the walls of the institutional church, Father Neuhaus was less daring about challenging the reigning trends of the day. The most obvious example is his apparent lack of interest in the liturgical wars that have divided Catholics since Vatican II. After Pope Benedict XVI forced modernist bishops across the world to allow every priest to say the traditional Latin Mass that was abolished following the council, Father Neuhaus appeared out of the woodwork to write in about the value of ancient liturgical practices. Traditionalists believe the connection between truth and beauty can be uniquely experienced through liturgy. To those who had been fighting for decades against the hierarchy in defense of traditional liturgy, he until then had been missing in action. On balance, he was more of a political conservative than a religious one.

Father Neuhaus’s most lasting legacy will be his articulate argument that a constitutional separation of church and state does not mean religion has no role in public debate. He consistently insisted that a secular state needs the whisper of its religious soul to guarantee that law maintains a moral basis. We are all grateful that he was so convincing on that important point. Richard John Neuhaus, .

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